Cash OK with six starters in camp

Freddy Garcia of the New York Yankees pitches Freddy Garcia of the New York Yankees pitches against the Baltimore Orioles at Yankee Stadium. (July 31, 2011) Photo Credit: Jim McIsaac

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TAMPA, Fla. -- The trade of A.J. Burnett alters the math of the rotation but doesn't change the primary Yankees story line as pitchers and catchers report Sunday.

Too many starters, not enough spots.

Which concerns general manager Brian Cashman not in the least.

"It's only a surplus when everyone is up and running and pitching well in the season," Cashman said by phone Saturday.

In other words, a lot can happen between now and when the season opens in St. Petersburg at Tropicana Field.

And even more after the season starts.

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"Look at this time last year," Cashman said. "The Red Sox had more pitching depth than anyone. And by September, they couldn't find guys to start. That contributed to their collapse more than anything."

Once the Burnett deal with the Pirates becomes official -- after Burnett passes his physical Sunday and commissioner Bud Selig gives his approval, likely by Monday afternoon -- the Yankees will be left with six starters for five rotation spots.

But realistically, CC Sabathia, Ivan Nova, Michael Pineda and Hiroki Kuroda, who threw Saturday morning at the Yankees' spring training facility, are all but locks for spots 1-4. That leaves Freddy Garcia, 12-8 with a 3.62 ERA last season, and Phil Hughes, 5-5 with a 5.79 ERA last year, to battle it out for the fifth spot.

That's how it looks on paper, anyway.

"I don't think you should ever be comfortable," Cashman said. "You're going to go north with 12 guys , but you're going to need somewhere in the 20s, between starters and relievers, throughout the season."

As pitching coach Larry Rothschild said: "I like to get all the pitching I can; I'm not too shy about that. You understand when you don't because the organization has to make decisions, and [dealing away Jesus] Montero I'm sure wasn't that easy to pull the trigger on. But it's hard to find good quality starting pitching and I think when you get a chance [to get it], you have to take that opportunity. But from my point of view as a pitching coach, obviously, I like all the arms we can get."

Hughes' right arm will get as much attention as anyone else's, right or left, in camp. The 25-year-old has been throwing at the minor-league complex for a couple of weeks. He showed up with a leaner physique, the result of offseason work -- mostly paid for by the Yankees -- at Athletes Performance Institute near his home in California.

"I replaced some weight with some muscle," said Hughes, who said he now weighs 240. "I didn't lose like 40 pounds or anything'' -- word around the complex is that he dropped 20 -- "but I feel a lot better and hopefully it will pay off."

Hughes spent some time last February in the Yankees' "fat camp," the team phrase for players who need to shed weight in spring training. Though neither Hughes nor anyone publicly suggested that caused his rough 2011, the pitcher and the organization didn't leave anything to chance.

"He didn't come in grossly out of shape, but he came in out of shape,'' Cashman said, "so it's easy to accept that as a contributing factor [to his 2011], but in reality, I don't know. But the focus was let's not show up like last year. He's in shape going into spring, and if that was the problem last year, it won't be this year."

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